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Pruning for plants with fruit in mind

By Michael O. Fine

Rowan Cooperative Extension

Landscaping your outdoor living space with perennial, fruit bearing plants can offer years of tasteful excitement that one can anticipate returning each summer. 

Perennial fruits such as blueberry, goji berries and blackberries are different from their annual, fruit bearing counterparts like tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and squashes.

With annual plants, you wait until the soil has reached the correct temperature, amend the soil with nutrients and minerals, and plant. After only a few short months, your plant has borne its lifelong bounty and you have discarded all of the plants’ remains before the winter arrives. The following season you start from scratch with a new generation of plants.

Perennials are a little different. They require the grower to employ imaginative foresight into the future and plan their landscapes for the long haul. With perennial fruits, growers think of crops in terms of seasonal rotations that last anywhere from 10 to 25 years, depending on the health of the plants and their environment. 

While it’s true that perennial fruits pay off big in the fact that they reproduce year after year, that does not imply that perennial plants are a “plant it and forget it” undertaking. Quite the contrary — perennial fruits require a little tender love and care throughout the year in order to fully reap the fruitful rewards come summertime.   

Dormant season pruning

Pruning plants is a necessary chore that:

  1. Improves sunlight penetration and increases air movement through the tree; 
  2. Develops the structure of the tree so that it can support a crop load;  
  3. Selects only the fruit bearing branches that can be physically reached and discards unproductive or diseases branches that do not serve the grower’s purpose.  

It’s really amazing the degree of control a grower can possess in the training of a plant’s shape to serve one’s purposes.  

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Rowan County is offering two ways to help local folks with their perennial fruit production this spring. For one, we partner with a certified local nursery with a reputation for outstanding fruit trees, berry bushes and grape vines.

Folks in our local area can buy and pick up plants directly from our office in Salisbury. The varieties offered through the Rowan County Cooperative Extension office are trial-researched for our region of the state and have proven reliable for folks.  

To order:  https://go.ncsu.edu/2020springplantsale or call the N.C. Cooperative Extension Rowan County Center, 704-216-8970.  Order soon; the pick-up date is Thursday, March 5 from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and orders will need to be submitted before that date.

The second way in which we hope to assist residents with their perennial fruit production is through an upcoming Blueberry Field Day at Elium Berry Farm on Feb. 27 from 1-4 p.m. This workshop will cover the basics of blueberry management from site selection to soil requirements and annual pruning. We hope anyone interested in growing blueberries on their property will come out and take advantage of this hands-on experience.  

To sign up, call the Rowan County Cooperative Extension office at 704-216-8970. The cost is $5 and space is limited.  

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